Two proposed class action lawsuits filed this week claim that Tesla has for years deceptively misrepresented the “autonomous” driver assistance technology in its electric vehicles and essentially led drivers on with promises that a fully self-driving vehicle is “on the cusp” of being brought to market.
According to the two cases, filed on September 14th and 15th, many Tesla drivers have paid thousands extra for Tesla’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS)—including “Autopilot,” “Enhanced Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving Capability”—based on the automaker’s misrepresentations of both how the systems work and the availability of even more advanced technology in the near future.
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In fact, the suits allege that Tesla and CEO Elon Musk have repeatedly indicated since as early as 2016 that the company is within a year, or even a few months, of perfecting a self-driving car, with Musk reportedly stating in a 2016 tweet that a Tesla would be able to complete a fully self-driven cross-country trip by “next year.”
According to the lawsuits, however, these promises have “proven false time and time again.”
Six years later, Tesla “has yet to produce anything even remotely approaching a fully self-driving car,” one case argues. The suit says former employees and investigations alike have revealed “damning information” that indicates Tesla has never even come close to achieving that goal.
The lawsuits contend that Tesla and Musk made these misleading statements about the cars’ self-driving capabilities despite being fully aware that “there was no reasonable chance” that Tesla would be able to follow through on those promises.
The cases claim Tesla drivers have been harmed financially in that they’ve overpaid for their vehicles based on “untrue,” “misleading” and “deceptive” marketing.
“The car is driving itself.”
According to the lawsuits, Tesla’s misleading representations regarding its cars’ autonomous features date back to as early as 2016, when the company released a video to go along with the launch of its enhanced autopilot and full self-driving ADAS technology. The video began with the following message:
The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not driving anything. The car is driving itself.”
It was later revealed that the car in the video, which appeared to successfully drive on public roads without any input from the driver, was assisted with commercial mapping software not available to Tesla customers, the cases allege. Tesla employees who worked on the video also reported later that the car drove poorly on the pre-planned route over and over again until the engineers were able to collect enough video footage to use, and even ran into a fence during filming, according to the complaints.
Although the video has been “debunked as deceptive and misleading,” Tesla still features it on its website, the suits say.
Over the following years, Tesla and Musk repeatedly made the “bold prediction[s]” that the automaker’s electric cars would soon be “self-driving” and have “full autonomy,” according to the complaints. Tesla allegedly painted a picture for drivers that featured their vehicles being able to navigate city streets, drive on congested highways, manage complex traffic situations and even drive across the country to meet their owners—all without human intervention. From the September 14 case:
Indeed, in every year since 2016, Tesla and Musk have repeatedly made deceptive and misleading statements to consumers indicating that a fully self-driving, fully autonomous Tesla vehicle was just around the corner, often expressly stating that would occur by the end of that calendar year or within the ‘next year.’”
The lawsuits relay that California’s Department of Motor Vehicles filed two complaints against Tesla on July 28, 2022, in which the agency accused the automaker of deceptively marketing its driver assistance systems. The California DMV’s complaints stated that although Tesla had described its ADAS features as “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving Capability,” implying that vehicles equipped with this technology can operate autonomously, the cars “could not at the time of those advertisements, and cannot now, operate as autonomous vehicles.”
As the lawsuits tell it, “tens of thousands” of consumers purchased or leased Tesla vehicles with ADAS technology based on these promises only to find out that any dreams they had about their Tesla driving itself into the sunset may not be as achievable as they were led to believe.
Despite Tesla’s representations, its vehicles are far from being able to drive on their own, according to the suits.
The complaints note that standards development organization SAE International, formerly the Society of Automotive Engineers, has developed a six-point scale for measuring a vehicle’s level of driving automation, with level 0 indicating no driving automation and level 5 indicating a fully self-driving vehicle. Per the suits, Tesla vehicles have never been able to rise beyond SAE level 2, which constitutes a car that can perform multiple driving tasks on its own but must remain under a driver’s supervision and control at all times.
Autonomous technology does not begin until SAE level 3, the cases relay, and several other automakers, including Audi, Honda, and Mercedes-Benz, have already begun selling cars with SAE level 3 features. A company called Waymo is even operating an SAE level 4 taxi service in Phoenix and San Francisco without backup drivers, the suits add.
Meanwhile, Tesla appears to have been left in the dust despite “portraying itself as a leader in autonomous vehicle technology,” one lawsuit states.
Self-driving software problems lead to accidents, investigations, lawsuits say
The lawsuits go on to claim the ADAS technology currently available in Tesla vehicles is plagued with problems, and allege that the automaker has essentially used drivers as guinea pigs to test “experimental software” on public roads, sometimes with devastating consequences.
After purchasing or leasing their vehicles, many Tesla drivers have found that their cars are unable to perform even simple driving tasks on their own, such as making routine turns, stopping at red lights and staying on the correct side of the road, the complaints say. According to the cases, many collisions have been reported, some of them fatal, involving Tesla vehicles with autopilot features engaged.
After an update to the Tesla full self-driving beta software was rolled out in October 2021, there was a marked increase in so-called “phantom braking” incidents, or situations where a car’s automatic braking system was triggered unnecessarily, the lawsuits say. The reported problems led to a recall in November 2021, an investigation by federal regulators and at least one class action lawsuit.
Meanwhile, in August 2022, Tesla announced that the price of the full self-driving capability in new cars would increase from $12,000 to $15,000 in early September.
Who is covered by the lawsuits?
The cases look to cover anyone who purchased or leased from Tesla (or Tesla Lease Trust, Tesla Finance or any entity the automaker owns or controls) a new Tesla vehicle with “Autopilot,” “Enhanced Autopilot” or “Full Self-Driving Capability” anytime since January 1, 2016.
How do I join the lawsuit?
There’s usually nothing you need to do to join or be considered part of a proposed class action lawsuit when it’s first filed. If the case moves forward and settles, that’s when those who are affected should receive notice of the settlement with instructions on how to file a claim for their share.
In the meantime, one of the best things you can do is to stay informed. Check back here for updates.
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